MDA finishes listening sessions
QUEENSTOWN, Md. — The Maryland Department of Agriculture wrapped up its series of listening sessions last week, gathering public input to use in forming a strategic plan for agriculture in the state.
With data collected from six meetings to tabulate, the department, working with the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology, must now produce a report for the state legislature by Dec. 1.
Attendees tackled three over-arching questions posed by facilitator Mitch Owen: What are the emerging trends in Maryland agriculture for the next 10 years?; What is Maryland Agriculture doing well and not doing well? and What is your vision for Maryland Agriculture?
“The questions are crafted as to not direct the answers,” Owen said at the Eastern Shore regional meeting on Sept. 30 at Chesapeake College. “This is community-based input for the future of Maryland Agriculture.”
Other regional meetings were held in Waldorf, Boonsboro and Timonium, along with two at MDA’s headquarters in Annapolis.
Though deemed a listening session, the bulk of the meeting was done in silent as Owen asked attendees to jot down their “right answers” for the questions on sticky notes.
“Our goal tonight isn’t to engage in debate but to hear everyone’s right answer,” Owen said. “I do want you to participate and I do want you to be brutally honest.”
Each of the main questions had several subquestions to generate more input. For what’s working and not working, attendees were asked to focus on food and farmland affordability, Chesapeake Bay restoration, government programs and Maryland Agriculture in general.
For their vision of the industry, attendees were asked to comment specifically on consumers, producers, markets, equipment, technology, distribution systems, allied industries and workforce and business development.
Owen said he’s used the meeting’s format in many other settings to allow unfettered responses from participants.
“This is effective because everybody gets a chance to share their thoughts,” he said. “The methodology allows for very effective quality answers in what is working and what can improve.”
Concluding each meeting, participants were asked a final question: What are the crossroads Maryland Agriculture is facing?
“It’s ambiguous by nature, y’all,” Owen said. “I don’t want to lead you I want you to lead me.”
Now the hundreds of sticky note data points from the Eastern Shore meeting along with all those compiled at the other meetings will form the basis of the report mandated from the previous legislative session.
Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder lamented the timing of the listening sessions overlapping with many farmers’ harvest season but said it was unavoidable in order to meet the legislature-imposed deadline.
Bartenfelder added the input the department has gotten from the Eastern Shore and the other meetings has reiterated what they’ve known to be the issues facing the industry.
“So far, there hasn’t been anything I’ve heard at one of these that I’ve heard somewhere else already,” Bartenfelder said.
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